An unnamed Princess (Joey King) has been taken prisoner by the evil Julius (Dominic Cooper). Julius wants to take control of the kingdom and the best way to do that is to force the Princess to marry him. The morning of what is planned to be her forced wedding, the Princess wakes up handcuffed and trapped in one of those huge towers that always seem to turn up in movies like this. The Princess takes one look out the window and is confronted by some cartoonish CGI that lets the viewer know that she’s really up high.
Fortunately, this Princess has spent most of her life training to be a warrior. Under the tutelage of Linh (Veronica Ngo) and Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu), the Princess has learned how to fight and defeat almost any enemy. (“Fight from you heart,” Linh tells her.) As such, the Princess has no fear of breaking her wrist so that she can remove the handcuffs. Soon, she is running through the tower, fighting every man that she comes across.
The first few fight scenes are cool and I appreciated the scene where the Princess shot a man with a crossbow just as he started to yell the C-word because, seriously, you boys have been going overboard with that word lately. Ultimately, though, there’s so many fight scenes that eventually, the viewer can’t help but notice that the fight choreography itself is rather simplistic. The Princess spends a lot of time jumping and spinning around in slow motion. She’s good at sliding across the floor while ducking her head to avoid swinging swords and flying arrows. It’s enjoyable the first few times but, as the film progresses, it all gets a bit repetitive. A huge part of the problem is that none of Julius’s henchmen appear to be particularly competent. They keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again and, as such, it’s not really empowering to watch The Princess defeat them because they’re all so clumsy that it seems anyone could defeat them. Even Julius commits the cardinal sin of talking when he should be fighting. A great hero needs a great villain and unfortunately, The Princess doesn’t provide that. Still, the fight scenes are preferable to any scene that involves dialogue as the script sometimes seems to have been written by an AI programmed to include every cliché possible. On the one hand, the Princess is smashing the patriarchy. On the other hand, good intentions do not make up for clunky dialogue.
To be honest, there’s a certain cynicism at the heart of The Princess that’s a bit off-putting. Written by two men and directed by another, The Princess is so proud of itself for featuring a young woman kicking ass that one has to wonder if the people responsible are seriously not aware that the action girl is one of the leading pop culture clichés of the past 20 years. The main complaint about the action girl trope is that the character is often not given any personality or motivation beyond the fact that she can beat people up and look good while doing it. The Princess doesn’t even bother to give its main character a name. For all the talk about the fate of the kingdom, we never learn how the Princess feels about any of it.
As for the cast, neither Joey King nor Dominic Cooper are well-served by a script that doesn’t offer any sort of real depth to the characters. Both deserve better.